Iowa senior Eric May and junior Melsahn Basabe have combined for 121 starts in their career, but now both are filling key roles coming off the bench for the Hawkeyes
May, a 6-foot-5 guard, played 13 minutes in the second half and 21 overall in the Hawkeyes’ 73-61 win against Central Michigan on Monday. His stat line was modest but vital: four points, four rebounds, two steals, two turnovers and an assist, but he was solid defensively.
Iowa used a smaller lineup to combat the Chippewas guards’ penetration that allowed five kick-out 3-pointers in the first half. May was the fourth guard in that role and defended 6-foot-8 post players John Simons and Zach Saylor for most of the second half.
“He’s been spectacular,” Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said. “I mean, in practice, in the summer, in the fall, everything we had hoped he would be. We put him in the game, he doesn’t make mistakes; he makes plays. He’s healthy. He’s really playing with confidence, so when he does make a mistake, he plays through it. That used to linger on him. He put too much pressure on himself.
“He doesn’t do that anymore. He just goes down and does something good for you. We had him on the five man there down the stretch, just go front the five man and be ready to go in there and get a rebound for us. He was great.”
May had multiple nagging ailments in his career, including a back injury that prevented him from playing more than eight minutes in any of Iowa’s final 10 games last season. He’s healthy once again and as athletic as ever.
“He’s tough, he’s mentally tough, he’s physically tough, he’s quick, and he’s smart, and those are the guys that win for you,” McCaffery said.
Basabe, a 6-foot-7 forward, provided the same spark in the first half. He came off the bench five minutes into the game and was active in the post. Basabe helped the Hawkeyes battle back during a 9-0 Central Michigan run, blocking three shots over a four-possession sequence. He also put Iowa back in the lead with a breakaway dunk.
“He was terrific,” McCaffery said. “He made a couple big baskets. When we were struggling for a basket, two different situations, he made a big basket for us.”
“Obviously I know that coach wants me to protect the rim,” Basabe said. “I felt like we needed it because it was a slug-fest in the first half, really low-scoring game. I felt like it was something that I could add.”
In nine first-half minutes, Basabe scored four points, blocked four shots and grabbed three rebounds. He finished with nine points in 20 minutes.
Defense was one of the many inconsistencies in Basabe’s game last year. He has made obvious strides in that area.
“I think I’m a lot better defensively partially because I had no choice. I want to play,” he said.
“It usually helps my offense as well when I’m locked in defensively. It gets you in better position for rebounds.”
Keno Davis returned to the Iowa campus as a head coach for the second time. Davis, son of Iowa’s all-time wins leader Tom Davis and a former walk-on, had coached Drake at Iowa in 2007. He also called a Drake-Iowa match-up last year for the Big Ten Network.
“I have to say I enjoyed being here working for the Big Ten Network more than I did (Monday),” Davis said.
“It seems like I keep coming back here, not just from a having gone to school here at the university. Also following the program and the basketball program under my father and going to high school here and growing up here, it’s no wonder that so many great people that work here at the university, they’re still here. From when my dad took the job in ’86, there’s still so many of those same people because it is a special place. I’d rather just come back here to visit than to play basketball games here in the future, though.”
Davis received a cordial ovation during pregame introductions. Central Michigan assistant coach Kevin Gamble was a starting guard for Iowa under Tom Davis during the team’s Elite Eight run in 1986-87.
BTN aired the game live but only one member of its television talent was on the scene. Play-by-play broadcaster Eric Collins and color analyst Sean Harrington called the game from BTN’s Chicago studios. Sideline reporter Kara Lentz did cover the game from Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Iowa’s next opponent is Howard, which dropped its season opener to Lincoln (Pa.) University 68-62 on Saturday. Howard was 10-21 last year.
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